“My child, will be called a prophet of the Most High … to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76,79)
How do you find joy after a mass shooting? Or after the loss of a loved one to suicide? It’s an odd thing to search for in the midst of immense grief. And yet, we begin to find it as we gather to mourn our loss, to share our grief, and to share stories about the life of our lost.
As I woke up on Nov. 20 to the news of the shooting at Club Q in my city, I immediately thought of the terrible pain the LGBTQIA+ community would be carrying into the holidays. Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump, Kelly Loving, Raymond Green Vance, and Ashley Paugh are deeply missed this Advent.
Many in Colorado Springs, both politically and theologically, have long cultivated exclusive spaces where the LGBTQIA+ community was told they are not welcome. So they gathered in spaces like Club Q when they were told there is no room for them at the inn. Gay bars have always been places where the LGBTQIA+ community has found full acceptance when the outside world has pushed them away. They are sacred spaces.
They are places where peace and joy are found. This was all taken away when a shooter acted on hate.
But as the community gathered at vigil after vigil, they overflowed. The first turned into multiple vigils. As attendees left, new mourners filled it to capacity. And then again, and again. The next day, vigil spaces in parks and churches and community spaces were all filled as people continued to draw to each other.
At the memorial at Club Q, you hear tears and groans, laughter and uplifting stories. Both are held in the same space. I imagine it might be similar to the pain Mary felt after giving birth, while also the joy of holding her newborn son.
We do not need to seek joy at the expense of pain. We can hold them both.
As we gather together this Advent, let us not forget that the kin-dom is here but also not yet. I see the kin-dom in the support and immense love that the LGBTQIA+ community is holding for each other — it’s unconditional; after all, they have had a lot of practice. And yet, we have a long way to go so long as gun violence and hate continue to be staples of the American experience.
This is not an impossible task. Christians are both one of the largest gun-owning demographics in the country and are consistently labeled as judgmental, especially toward the LGBTQIA+ community. This Advent, let us reflect on the inclusive ministry of Jesus and Jesus’s constant love of the other. We’ll realize our guns make better plowshares and gay bars make better churches. This is where joy is found.
Michael Martin is founder and executive director of RAWtools Inc. and blogs at RAWtools.org. RAWtools turns guns into garden tools (and other lovely things), resourcing communities with nonviolent confrontation skills in an effort to turn stories of violence into stories of creation.
NOTE: This is part of our Unsettling Advent devotionals running Nov. 27-Dec. 24. You can subscribe for free to receive them each morning in your inbox.